It might be more important than ever in FCS college football to have a standout running back.
Injuries played havoc with a number of All-America running backs last season. Only 20 running backs (plus three quarterbacks) from 124 FCS programs surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier a year ago. That was well less than half the number just four years earlier.
Better health in the running back class in 2018 will go a long way toward making it much improved.
Here is a countdown of the 10 best running backs in the FCS:
10. Ryan Fulse, Wagner, Sr., 5-11, 195
In his first season with the Seahawks last year, the Monroe (N.Y.) College transfer mowed through opponents for seven games of 100 yards or more, finishing with 1,306 yards overall -- fourth-best in the FCS -- plus 12 touchdowns. His cutbacks make tacklers miss. He will be tested in September against Syracuse and Montana State.
9. A.J. Hines, Duquesne, Jr., 5-11, 225
Like Fulse, Hines is a standout in the Northeast Conference. He won the 2016 Jerry Rice Award as the FCS freshman of the year and overcame an early-season injury as a sophomore to post his second 1,000-yard campaign, in just nine games. He has a physical, straight-ahead style of running.
8. Lance Dunn, North Dakota State, R-Sr., 5-9, 214
Dunn led the Bison with 634 rushing yards and had scored an FCS-high 13 touchdowns when he was lost to a hip injury midway through last season. When healthy, the home-run hitter will split carries in perhaps the deepest backfield in the FCS. He led the Missouri Valley Football Conference with six yards per carry in 2016.
7. Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, Albany, R-Jr., 5-8, 194
A preseason first-team All-American last year, Ibitokun-Hanks' season was limited to one game because he couldn't get fully healthy following offseason knee surgery. He rushed for a CAA Football-high 1,388 yards and scored 16 touchdowns two years ago. The Great Danes fell from 7-4 in 2016 to 4-7 without him last season.
6. John Santiago, North Dakota, Sr., 5-9, 180
With his kickoff return ability and pass-catching skills, Santiago is perhaps the best all-purpose threat in the FCS. No returning player is even close to his career average of 162.9 all-purpose yards per game. On the ground, the elusive Santiago has accumulated 3,159 yards and 28 touchdowns entering his senior campaign.
5. Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly, R-Sr., 6-0, 230
Also back from injury -- he suffered an ACL tear in last year's second game -- Protheroe seeks to rebound as a fullback in Cal Poly's triple-option offense. A workhorse with both speed and power, he racked up 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground in 2016. Cal Poly was a playoff qualifier that year, but won only once without him last season.
4. Zane Dudek, Yale, So., 5-9, 190
As a freshman, Dudek dominated the Ivy League in many offensive categories, finishing with 1,133 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 10 games while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. FBS schools whiffed on recognizing the skills of Dudek, a cousin to former NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte.
3. Tevin McCaster, Youngstown State, R-Sr., 5-10, 195
McCaster built on a breakout playoff game against Eastern Washington as a sophomore by leading the Missouri Valley in rushing yards per game last year, finishing with 1,066 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He follows his blocks well and has a nose for the end zone.
2. Dom Bragalone, Lehigh, Sr., 5-11, 230
It's tough to tackle the 2017 FCS leader in rushing yards (1,388) and touchdowns (22). He has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons and also is an effective receiver out of the backfield, recording 37 receptions for 583 yards and six touchdowns in his career.
1. Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State, Sr., 5-11, 211
He won't have the best stats in the FCS, but semifinal-round victim Sam Houston State (237 yards from scrimmage, five TDs) will attest to Anderson's ability. He (above, right) wound up leading the national champion Bison with 1,216 rushing yards. He runs with a mix of power and speed. Plus, his ability to return kicks adds to his NFL resume.
More Running Backs to Watch:
Marquell Cartwright, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
Pete Guerriero, Monmouth, Soph.
Marcus Marshall, James Madison, Sr.
James Robinson, Illinois State, Jr.
Malcolm Summers, Elon, Sr.
Marquis Terry, Southeast Missouri State, Sr.
Marcus Weymiller, Northern Iowa, Sr.
-- Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Dom Bragalone photo courtesy Lehigh Athletics; Bruce Anderson photo courtesy of NDSU Athletics)